Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Tortured Lives of Torturers

i read "The Tortured Lives of Interrogators", an article published on June 3rd in the Washington Post and was struck by many things. The first question that i raise is why the sympathetic coverage of people who torture? Would one of Saddam's interrogators have been talked about in such an understanding way? How about one of Arafat's? Or one of Mubarak's, Assad's, or Ahmadinejad's? How about one of Hitler's torturers? How about any of the torturers that acted with impunity in Argentina, Chile, Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, or Paraguay during the Reagan years - they were trained and supported by us, they were on our "side" weren't they? (i'm certain these torturers have a few funny anecdotes to share ala the Israeli interrogator in the article) If they are not worthy of equally sympathetic coverage, we must ask ourselves, "Why not? Why is one of "ours" more worthy of sympathy, compassion, and empathy?"

Ah, yes, "the good fight for democracy and freedom" demands it of us. Demands that “patriots” consent to diminish their humanity because we are fighting the good fight, whereas these "others" are less than human, "evil-doers", devils and worse. All of these are rationalizations, all are unworthy arguments. Torture, for whatever reason, is a deplorable abomination in our world- and no rationalization makes it justifiable, worthy, or admirable.

The article claims, "The border between coercion and torture is often in dispute." Legally, the Geneva Conventions, the UN Convention on Torture, and US Law are quite clear about torture, the border clearly delineated. It is only since the Bush administration's twisted legal rationales on torture came into play that this border has suddenly become blurred. i would dare say, that each of these men know very clearly what moral boundaries they crossed as they delved into torturing other human beings and this, irregardless of the laws in place, is precisely why they suffer.

The comment by Darius Rejali, an expert on modern torture, "Nothing is more toxic than guilt, which is typical with democratic interrogators. Nazis, on the other hand, don't have these problems." is an outright fabrication and further fuels the propaganda machine that drives the divisions of self and other, good-doers (us) and evil-doers (them). Human beings suffer from guilt. All human beings, regardless of ideology. Those that torture, like the Nazis, and like the Israeli, Sheriff, survive by cutting away parts of their humanity- as he said himself, "I've got a clean conscience because I rarely use it." This diminishing of the human spirit diminishes us all.

Perhaps the Washington Post could follow up with an article that includes interviews of the people who were tortured at the hands of these men. Even more useful would be to convene a truth and reconciliation circle between these men and their victims. As was shown by the South Africa Truth and Reconciliation Committees, we can go a long way to regaining our lost humanity by looking one another in the eye and sharing our stories, pain, and common humanity.

Of course, the moral high ground that Americans hold in these matters has always been nothing more than an illusion. We have outsourced torture techniques to third world countries for dozens of years (training at the School of the Americas and Fort Huachuca, Ariz amongst many others) and our proxies have learned their lessons well. Now that these techniques have been exposed (again), honorable human beings must stand up and demand change. i feel deeply for the interrogators, and i feel deeply for all the victim's they tormented. i hope each of them find a way to recover all they have lost. The burden each of us carries is heavy. May each of us find a way to ease this suffering and be at peace.

The original article can be found at

©Johnny Barber 6/6/07